Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Writing Process Blog Tour: The Four Questions
1. What are you working on? I'm working on two books of poetry. The first, Driving Home from Mother's House, is about my mom, Anna Helfgott (1899-1996), who was for all of my life (little did I know it) the center of my life. Writing Mother onto the page helps me understand the strengths and weaknesses of our relationship and how that mother-daughter bond informed the relationships I had with my father, sister and brother, not to mention my own children and grandchildren and, of course, my two marriages.
I've been writing poems for this work since 1982 when I took classes from Heather McHugh and Nelson Bentley. I happened to have been in their classes because, while I was enrolled as a doctoral student in history, I needed to take a break. I thought poetry would be the best way to relax and have some fun. The poems encompass the various stages of my emotional and intellectual development, that is, from ages four years old or so, through elementary school years, high school, young adulthood and periods of aging and aging some more. Many of the poems have to do with my mother's political activism - her leftist and union activism in the 1930s and her involvement with the Seattle Gray Panthers in her later years. She was in practically every demonstration in Seattle until she was 90 years old, fighting for civil rights, women's rights, and most of all, a single-payer health care system. I hope to include some of Mother's poems in this collection. She was also in Nelson's classes.
The second manuscript concerns shadows my family lived with from the 1940s on: 1) the McCarthy era witch-hunts and 2) a hovering but absent much older half-sister - Leah (1926 - 2010) - from my father's first marriage whom I didn't meet until I was an adult. Then she told me "I don't want a sister." She did, however, embrace my brother, thereby reinforcing a class-difference and betrayal dynamic, as well as a woman-hate-woman kind of sexism. My sister Dorothy (1944- 2004) and I were not in our half-sister's obituary, though our brother was. For me, this led to the devastating realization that Dot and I did not exist in a world that we carried with us (at least I did) since childhood and reinforced the fact that my brother had an extended (and internal) family that my sister and I were never invited into. This second manuscript is called My Two Dead Sisters.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre? Obviously psychoanalysis informs my work, but everyone's work is different, as it should be. There's no jello mold for writers. We all have different voices and different life experiences, which we write from - or in spite of. I entwine different writing modalities into my work, as I did with Dear Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's Diary & Poems (Cave Moon Press, 2013). Poets write in a variety of ways, entwining one genre with another. My last book, Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimer's (Cave Moon Press, 2014), I thought I'd do all in Tanka form, but something inside me refuses to conform and I ended up playing with the form and taking it into a variety of directions.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
From Jew to Jew: Dear Sharon
I did not say that I was an atheist (though many respectable people are). Rather, I do not presume to know whether God exists or if the idea of God was created by human beings or if God Himself/Herself chose to inculcate that idea within us. I certainly do not presume to know what God or G-d promises to the Jewish people anymore than I know what God might promise to any other people. As far as I am concerned we of the human race are all one people and any “promise” God might make to one people I have no doubt that His or Her goodness would extend that promise to all people.
When Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped I was devastated – as you were -- devastated that this should happen and in my family’s – your family’s - neighborhood. I felt as if those boys were my children, as much as you felt they were yours. Unlike you, I do not believe that prayer will bring those boys back to us. Good will and peace will bring them home. But Netanyahu and others seem bent on war and this is where I must clarify my words. I said “The whole world is looking for peace.” Here I was wrong. I do not believe that some like Netanyahu and Cheney, for instance, look for peace; rather, they seem to enjoy the fight. I do not.
You write: "Perhaps those Jews in the US who do not believe in G-d and his promises to the Jewish people should not try to help us so much. Those who bless Israel will be blessed.” Sharon, I am a secular Ashkenazi Jew, just as much a Jew as you are in your religiosity. My mother and your husband’s father - sister and brother - were just as Jewish in their secular thinking as you are in your religious thinking. Your late father-in-law, my Uncle Izzy, would be as appalled by what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians as my mother, Anna, was. I do not accept your telling me not to “try to help us so much.” Everyone must try, each in his or her own way. Jew and non-Jew alike.
I am not a shul-goer, though I have tried that route-- to my leftist's mother’s surprise. What I see happening in American shuls and Temples, regardless of denomination, is an attempt to find identity through the state of Israel and the Law of Return. I do not feel that I have the right to make aliyah when I am not escaping prejudice. This is certainly not to say that there is no antisemitism here; there is, and in Europe and elsewhere. But the kidnapping had to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not antisemitism; we are not in the midst of a Nazi Holocaust.
My homeland is North America. I do not feel I have the right to usurp land that I do not need out of fear that there will be another Holocaust or because God “promised” me the land. To my mind, that is an absurd notion used to maintain power, not peoplehood. Human beings wrote the Torah. You are using a religious, i.e., fictitious dictum, to gratify your needs and fantasies about what our world should look like. And it is our world, all of ours. We must negotiate on all sides to make it work for all of us. The best thing about Judaism - and it is mine whether I am religious or not - is chesed/kindness. I do not see chesed coming from you toward the Palestinians any more than I see it coming from them toward you.
You write: “Hamas terrorists have not shown even one photo of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.” Has Israel shown photos of all the children the IDF has killed? I want Eyal, Gilad and Naftali home and well. I also do not want other children or you and the rest of my family in Israel to be so cavalier as to think you can go anywhere you want, as if there is no danger, as if you own all the land.
You may not think this letter comes with love but I assure you it does. If I did not love you, your husband and his sister - my first cousins - and the rest, I would not be so upset. I loved your husband's mother, my Aunt Ruth, all the while I knew how religious she was and what her attitudes were. Uncle Izzy loved her too, and that is why their children went to Hebrew school. It was not just because of Ruth; Uncle Izzy went along with it, just as everyone in the family did - Orthodox, leftist, secular - because we loved Ruth and still do, her memory. We also love a lot of other people and want them all to live in safety.
Sometimes people who live far from the problem can see more than those who live closest. You will not shut me out of the discussion; in fact, you have brought my Jewish voice to the fore when I did not think I had one.
Love to you and the family,
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Writing to Heal
This week I was honored to be asked to write a guest blog for alzheimer's.net, an important resource for the Alzheimer's community and I thought it important to post here as well as on the P.I. blog.
This short essay, Writing to Heal, discusses my latest book Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimer's, just out from Cave Moon Press. The book launch will be at the Elliott Bay Book Co. up on Capitol Hill, Tuesday July 1, 2014 at 7 pm. The reading is free and everyone's welcome. The more the merrier! I hope you'll be able to make it.
I have a lot on my mind about what's going on in the world so I'll be using this blog for other issues as well. For now, thanks for stopping by,
Monday, July 22, 2013
"Dear Alzheimer's: A Caregiver's Diary & Poems" Publication Date, August 2013
I'm so happy to tell you that my essays and poems are finally appearing between the covers of a book, put together so beautifully by Douglass P. Johnson and Cave Moon Press. It has been my honor to work with this project in conjunction with Doug, and I hope you will join us for our launch. Champagne included (if allowed). Thanks for your support, Esther
PLEASE JOIN US
BOOK LAUNCH FOR DEAR ALZHEIMER'S
Sunday September 8, 2013
|Published by Cave Moon Press, Yakima, WA., 2013|
For more information, please visit www.estherhelfgott.com
Labels: Alzheimer's, Aphasia, caregivers, Cave Moon Press, Douglass P. Johnson, Esther Altshul Helfgott, grief, illness, mourning & loss, poetry & caregiving, poetry & grieving, poetry in everyday life, writing & illness
Friday, April 26, 2013
PoMo2013 - Poem 26 - Nikky Finney
Nikky Finney, Last night
for the 10th grade WITS* poet
who read her poem
before Finney walked on stage
to more stand-up
from a Seattle audience
who made her feel,
she said, like a rock star.
Be generous she repeated.
Support your poets out loud.
Give them tools
to craft their work is
what Finney’s mother did
and her grandmother
and her father too.
And then came Colleen McElroy
(in the audience)
who taught her excellence
and Lucille Clifton who,
finding the younger poet scrambling
and embarrassed at her door,
said: Come on in child.
And then came Nikki Giovanni
whose own mother helped red-ink
and later paraded
them down the street.
treat them as if
so the poet
and tell them
-Esther Altshul Helfgott
*Writers in the School
Thursday, April 25, 2013
PoMo2013 - Poem 25 - "Accident"
and raced over to Harborview
Hospital to find his life
Flowers line the curbside
When he returns,
the first call
What a relief ,
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
PoMo2013 - poem 24 - "To the Aspiring Poet"
Poems are to be
used in everyday life
is my answer to the aspirng poet
who wants to publish in the New Yorker
and nowhere else, except maybe a
peer-review journal that makes you wait
a year or more before a committee
decides your work
meets its editorial needs.
it needs to come alive in the middle of an afternoon.
It needs to dance
in the dark
It’s not just the poet who needs
Poems have needs too.
They need to be outside
everyday, in the fresh,
or the stale, air.
with other writers.
She reads in open mikes
and once in awhile
gives her own fifteen-minute readings.
She keeps a journal of her days
and a notebook full of poems.
Most of all, she reads poetry, lots of poetry.
She doesn’t need a famous magazine to tell her she’s a poet.
She already is and shouldn’t hide her work
in envelopes waiting to be read.
Send them out, I tell her.
Or post them on a blog.
That’s their loss, I tell her.
Besides, the world is changing
The publishing world is.
Famous is not what it used to be.
The poem is a vehicle for responding
to current events, to the goings-on around you.
Poetry-making need not be a closed network,
unless you participate in making it so.
Speak your poems now, I advise this poet.
People are waiting to hear you.
I'm waiting to hear you.
-Esther Altshul Helfgott
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
PoMo2013 - Poem 23- "Fifth Grade"
I got A+’s in Handwriting.
In fifth grade, the only student
who came close to me in that subject
was a boy named Barry.
I don't know
to Barry and his handwriting
to hours of anguish.
to expose my imperfections
I'd have to re-start.
to my 5th grade-pen pal.
had to be perfect too (but that's
and I wrote with a #3 pencil,
as if I didn’t want anybody
to see what I was writing.
Mother kept telling me
to use #2 pencils,
but the print
but I didn’t turn
my work in
This led people to think I was slow.
- Esther Altshul Helfgott
Monday, April 22, 2013
PoMo2013- poem 22 - A Woman Is
her body of work
Esther Altshul Helfgott